Tampa Bay Times out of line describing St. Pete Pier surveys ‘suspect’

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It’s no secret the Tampa Bay Times is not a fan of the inverted pyramid. It supported the Lens in 2013 and now it is supporting the design for a new pier that may very well be the least liked of those being considered.

In a recent editorial following the Pier Selection Committee’s delay of a final ranking of designs, the Times editorial board once again slammed Destination St. Pete Pier in favor of Alma.

The editorial read like it was written by Selection Committee chair and hater of all things upside-down pyramids Mike Connors. The board praised him for making “sweeping, thoughtful” arguments against an “updated version of the inverted pyramid.” They heralded his notion that the current structure is already a half-century old and would need to be preserved for another 75 years under the city’s requirement.

It said he “reasonably questioned the wisdom of keeping a version of it for decades to come.”

It was all but a commercial for Alma and Alfonso Architects. Alma and the Lens, they wrote, are “innovative.”

The Times accused the booming criticism dominating local news that the selection committee is ignoring the will of the public on “the same clique of parochial, longtime residents who raised enough money and noise two years ago.”

There’s a problem with that. Three – not one, not two – three surveys have shown Destination St. Pete Pier the clear leader among the public. Two of the surveys show Alma the least favorite.

But the Times said “this is a decision that cannot be based on suspect opinion polls and the loudest complainers.”

Suspect opinion polls? The editorial board doesn’t say which polls are suspect. One was the city’s own survey and it showed Destination overwhelmingly grabbing the top pick among voters. Alma came in a paltry number five.

The other two polls were conducted by St. Pete Polls – one independently and one commissioned by Florida Politics. To be clear, the Times is not this blog’s biggest fan.

So, here’s why calling the St. Pete Polls surveys “suspect” might not be the best choice.

First of all, the last time the Times took such a strong stance in favor of a design, things didn’t go so well. The Times was clear in its desire to see the Lens succeed. It did not and Matt Florell and his St. Pete Polls called it.

St. Pete Polls predicted in 2013 that people would vote to cancel the contract with Michael Maltzan Architects to build the Lens. The group predicted 62 percent would vote yes on the pier amendment. When it was all said and done, 63 percent voted to kill the contract. The difference was less than the poll’s margin of error.

Not enough?

In 22 races last year, St. Pete Polls predicted 20 of them correctly. One of the two checked off as a loss here isn’t really even a loss. Their polls had Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist tied. The race was divided by less than 1.5 percent.

It’s hard to call any survey or poll “suspect” when you take into consideration the factors at play here. First, there are three polls and each of them corroborates that Destination St. Pete is the favorite.

Second, St. Pete Polls nailed it when the Lens died.

“We are basically using the same methodology for sample selection and scientific calculation as we used back then. The numbers on the polls leading up to that last one were all very close to what we arrived at in that final poll on August 27, 2013,” Florell wrote in an email.

The Times also predicted a Lens defeat in 2013 in its own internal poll, but they were nowhere near the accuracy of St. Pete Polls. The Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and WUSF poll found 55 percent would vote against that design.

Florell also points to the Times’ own shady polling tactics. That includes a poll of just 21 people the Times quoted.

“Our polls are accurate because of the larger than standard sample size and our method for selecting a representative sample to poll,” Florell said. “So, they don’t have a leg to stand on in criticizing a polling organization like ours that consistently releases fairly accurate public polls without trying to push an agenda like they do.”

The Times is trying to invalidate a poll without cause to do so in order to push its preferred pier design — the “innovative” Alma.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.